Duke found itself in an overtime battle for the second consecutive game Tuesday night. And for the second straight time, the Blue Devils came out on the losing end, falling to Georgia Tech, 81-77.
The game represented a must-win for both teams, as each entered the night sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
A win almost guarantees a berth into the NCAA field. A loss lengthens the odds, and leaves a lot of uncertainty for the remainder of the season and league tournament.
Duke was well aware of the stakes, but in spite of their fight and unwillingness to go down without laying it all on the court, inconsistent play, and at times horrid segments of action, ultimately sunk the Blue Devils.
“Made a lot of mistakes in the game,” freshman center Mark Williams said. “Throughout all that we still gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. It’s tough. It’s tough.
“We definitely knew the stakes of the game. Definitely were aware of the situation. Had the mentality that we had to win and unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
While devastation might not be the correct term, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was clearly disappointed in the loss – not so much his team, but rather the overall outcome.
He acknowledged the fight his team showed once again, but the unfortunate inability to come away with the plays late to get the victory, clearly cuts into the Blue Devils’ head coach, and his players.
“That was a very difficult loss,” he said. “The two in a row in overtime. Obviously we had a great shot to win right at the end of regulation …
“Our margin between winning and losing is a narrow one. So you have a number of these plays and it’s tough to win. Even in the overtime we got down, our kids fought. Hit a three, I think it was 79-76, we had another open shot. You’ve gotta hit shots. You’ve just gotta hit’em. If you hit them, we win.”
Unfortunately for Duke, hitting shots was not a theme of the night. The Blue Devils were atrocious from the perimeter, making just 7-of-26 shots (28.6%) from 3-point range. Only Wendell Moore Jr. connected on more than one shot from long range, going 2-of-4 on the night.
Both of his threes came in the first half, when he scored 16 of his 20 points for the game. He added eight rebounds, four steals and three assists to his stat line, but Georgia Tech locked in on the sophomore in the second half, holding him to 2-of-9 from the field.
Without his offense, and Matthew Hurt scoring just two of his 12 points in the second half – he attempted just one shot in his final 11:44 of action before fouling out with 6:14 left in the game – Duke was limited on with the ball in its hands.
Williams was the only consistent threat to score. He finished the game with 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting, but he was basically left to carry the load for most of the second half.
Duke’s perimeter had its second thought outing, and perhaps its worst of the entire season. There’s really no way to sugarcoat it – Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward were just bad, plain and simple. The two freshmen looked lost at times. Timid in other moments. They combined for just 11 points, with five of those coming from Steward in the final five minutes of regulation and into overtime.
“We’re just not getting any production at all from our perimeter – from our guards,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s the second game in a row where they’ve had a tough time against veteran guards.”
Overall, Roach and Steward were 3-of-11 shooting, and just 2-of-9 from 3-point range. Additionally, the duo posted just three assists compared to six turnovers.
Senior Jordan Goldwire was not a force scoring points, but he did create well for most of the night, handing out eight assists while also pulling down six rebounds.
Aside from his play, as Krzyzewski and the statistics note, the young perimeter was not very good.
In spite of the perimeter struggles, Hurt fouling out and chaotic play at times, Duke somehow still had a chance to win the game late. Part of that is Duke’s fight, but some of it was Georgia Tech making mind boggling decisions with the basketball in critical moments.
No matter what the box score might indicate, Georgia Tech was not getting sustained dominance throughout the game from any one of its players. Moses Wright was really good from start to finish, but he didn’t go without his moments of distress.
Williams bothered the Georgia Tech big man off and on throughout the night. In fact, After Wright’s 11 point first half effort, Duke held him to just four points through the first 10:26 of the second half.
Jose Alvarado was virtually nonexistent until overtime, when he scored six of his 10 points.
Then around the 12:48 mark things began to fall apart for Duke. The struggles continued for about the next eight minutes. Over that stretch, Duke turned the ball over eight times, Hurt picked up his final three fouls and Duke went from leading by two points to trailing by eight.
“For about five minutes in the second half, I don’t know, from 15 to 10, or somewhere in there, we just kind of went nuts,” Krzyzewski said. “We were doing some things … like what are we doing? And that’s when they got the lead. What are we doing? We had no poise during that time.”
After that stretch, Krzyzewski made a key substitution, pulling both Roach and Steward in favor of Joey Baker and Jaemyn Brakefield. They joined Goldwire, Moore and Williams.
And this group almost pulled off the win for the Blue Devils.
Baker scored six big points for Duke, their last in regulation, in the final three minutes to tie the game and send it to overtime. But before the final seconds ticked away in regulation, the Blue Devils had a chance to win it, in spite of the chaos that ensued not long before.
Georgia Tech had a chance to end the game, as they had the ball with 24 seconds left and the score tied at 64. Alvarado, who had not been very good up to that point, had the ball in his hands. And inexplicably he dribbled around for 17 seconds before pulling up from four feet beyond the 3-point line and mission everything – the backboard included.
Duke had six seconds to get a shot off and leave with the win. The Blue Devils got their play set, and found a wide open Brakefield for a corner three. He pulled, but the shot missed and time ran out.
“Obviously we had a great shot to win right at the end of regulation,” Krzyzewski said. “The kids executed the full court thing really well. That group got us back. We were eight points down. Joey did a couple really good things, but that group played really good defense and gave us a shot at winning.
“Even in the overtime we got down, our kids fought. Hit a three, I think it was 79-76, we had another open shot.”
The overtime was ultimately the Alvarado and Wright show, as they scored 12 of Georgia Tech’s points to lead them to victory. During Duke’s breakdown in the second half, Wright began asserting himself and it carried through into the five minute overtime session. For the game, he had 29 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.
Williams finished with 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, while blocking three shots and picking up three steals.
It wasn’t enough, and now Duke must look to the future.
“It’s tough to lose games like that knowing you have a chance to win,” Williams said. “I think the next step is to look at our next game Saturday.
“We can’t keep thinking about his game. We’ve got to stay positive. Keep our heads up and focus on Carolina Saturday.”